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Ellsbury second in AL MVP

Verlander adds award to Cy honor

By Nick Cafardo
Globe Staff / November 22, 2011

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Red Sox center fielder Jacoby Ellsbury garnered four first-place votes and 242 points in finishing second to Tigers pitcher Justin Verlander in the American League Most Valuable Player balloting, the results of which were announced by the Baseball Writers Association of America yesterday in New York.

“I’m proud of him,’’ said Sox general manager Ben Cherington. “He is a guy we drafted and came up through our system. He had a breakout season. I wish he had won it.’’

If he had, there’s no telling what his future earnings would be, and even now, after center fielder Matt Kemp received an eight-year, $160 million deal from the Dodgers, there’s reason to believe Ellsbury belongs in that arena.

His agent, Scott Boras, has had preliminary discussions with the Sox about a long-term deal. Ellsbury has another season of arbitration before he can become a free agent. The Sox may want to wait and see whether Ellsbury can come close to repeating his extraordinary season.

The Sox tied up Jon Lester, Dustin Pedroia, and Kevin Youkilis before they entered free agency with team-friendly contracts. But they were not able to achieve that with closer Jonathan Papelbon, who last week signed with the Phillies for four years and $50 million, with a vesting option for a fifth year.

As a sign of goodwill, the Sox gave Ellsbury almost a $2 million raise last offseason after injuries limited him to just 18 games in 2010. Ellsbury far exceeded his $2.4 million salary.

Ellsbury played a career-high 158 games in 2011 and was the best all-around player in the game.

Entering his prime at 28, he batted .321 with a .376 on-base percentage, slugged .552, hit 32 homers, had 105 RBIs, and stole 39 bases in 54 tries. In addition, he topped the AL with 364 total bases and 83 extra-base hits. He also won the Gold Glove after being shifted to left field the year before in favor of Mike Cameron.

Ellsbury turned into the superstar the Sox thought he would become if he could stay out of the trainer’s room. He shed the “soft’’ image, for sure.

Now comes the question of whether Ellsbury really wants to play in Boston long term, or whether he’d prefer a less demanding market to fit his quiet personality. If the Sox feel they can’t sign Ellsbury long term, he could be a potential trade piece between now and next season’s trade deadline.

The Sox’ Adrian Gonzalez (seventh) and Pedroia (ninth) also finished in the top 10 in balloting.

Verlander, who had a Roger Clemens-circa-1986 season for the Tigers in leading them to the playoffs, received 13 of 28 first-place votes and 280 points. Toronto’s Jose Bautista (five first-place votes) finished third, 11 points behind Ellsbury.

Verlander (24-5, 2.40 ERA, 250 strikeouts) won the Triple Crown of pitching. The 24 wins were the most since Bob Welch won 27 for the Athletics in 1990. Verlander also pitched his second career no-hitter, May 7 at Toronto.

He won the Cy Young Award unanimously last week. And he became the first starter since Clemens in 1986 and the first pitcher since Dennis Eckersley in 1992 to win MVP.

“Obviously pitchers are not just written off all of a sudden because they’re pitchers,’’ Verlander said during a conference call yesterday.

“Not even in my wildest dreams had I thought of this. I want to say this is a dream come true. I can’t say that because my dream had already had come true . . . to win a Cy Young. And the next dream is to win a World Series. This wasn’t even on my radar until the [MVP] talk started. And then all of a sudden, it was a this-could-actually-happen type of thing.

“I think that a starting pitcher has to do something special to be as valuable or moreso than a position player. Obviously, having the chance to play in 160-some games, in the case of [teammate] Miguel [Cabrera], they can obviously have a huge impact every day. That’s why I’ve talked about on my day, on a pitcher’s day, the impact we have is tremendous on that game. So you have to have a great impact almost every time out to supersede [position players] and it happens on rare occasions, and I guess this year was one of those years.’’

Jim Ingraham of The Herald-News in Ohio left Verlander off his ballot. And Sheldon Ocker of the Akron Beacon Journal voted Verlander eighth.

“I think this set a precedent,’’ Verlander said. “I’m happy that the voters acknowledged that, that we do have a major impact in this game and we can be extremely valuable to our team and its success.’’

Ellsbury tweeted, “Congrats to Justin Verlander. Thanks to all the writers that voted for me.’’

Verlander is the 10th pitcher to win the Cy Young and MVP in the same season. The others: Don Newcombe (1956), Sandy Koufax (1963), Bob Gibson (1968), Denny McLain (1968), Vida Blue (1971), Rollie Fingers (1981), Willie Hernandez (1984), Clemens (1986), and Eckersley (1992).

Material from the Associated Press was used in this report. Nick Cafardo can be reached at cafardo@globe.com.

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